The 19 Spanish university schools that rank among the best in the world

While only one institution is in the top 200, several have been listed in this year’s QS rankings for subjects

Estudiantes en la Escuela de Minas de la Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.
Students at the Polytechnic University of Madrid.KIKE PARA
Elisa Silió

When the heads of Spain’s 50 public universities are criticized for not making it into the top of global rankings – only the University of Barcelona was listed as among the best 200 universities in the world in the prestigious Shanghai Ranking for 2019 – they argue that their institutions do better when it comes to specific subjects. This argument was confirmed on Wednesday when the British company Quacquarelli Symonds published its QS World University Rankings by subject.

Ten Spanish universities have a subject that is ranked among the top 50 in the world, and 17 have a subject in the top 200. The University of Barcelona is the best-ranked Spanish institution, with four specialties ranked in the top 50 in their field (anatomy and physiology, library science and documentation, philosophy, and archaeology).

The Polytechnic University of Madrid also has four subjects in the top rankings – aviation, mining engineering, architecture and civil engineering – but they are lower on the list.

The students, teachers and administration staff are putting in a great effort, but an economic boost is needed
Guillermo Cisneros, rector of the Polytechnical University of Madrid

But according to Ben Sowter, senior vice president of QS Quacquarelli Symonds, the results are not all good news for Spain. “The latest edition of the QS World University Rankings for subjects shows that [Spain’s minister for universities] Manuel Castells is going to take charge of a sector that already has a high degree of excellence, but still has more potential to improve.”

Italy, for example, has eight subjects in the top 10, while Spain has none. British universities continue to lead in the rankings, while the United States has lost ground. Chinese institutions, on the other hand, have continued to climb to the top.

“The University of Barcelona has been driven to seek excellence in research in all fields since the 1980s, when Josep Maria Bricall was the rector. It is our policy,” says Joan Elias, the current rector of the university. This research work is scored by how many citations it receives, and this is taken into account by rankings such as the QS World University list.

“These rankings by discipline are put together according to parameters of academic reputation and employability that feed into one another, and Spain has very well-educated people in multinationals who are spoken of very highly,” says Guillermo Cisneros, the rector of the Polytechnic University of Madrid.

Italy has eight subjects listed in the top 10 of the QS World University Ranking, while Spain has none

According to Sowter, “to ensure that higher education in Spain is more competitive on a global level, it is urgent and necessary for them to efficiently compete for funding.” The senior vice president of QS Quacquarelli Symonds adds that Spanish universities must also collaborate with the Science and Innovation Ministry, which is led by former astronaut Pedro Duque, as well as the University Ministry. “Many countries don’t separate university, research and innovation in such a sharp way as the new Spanish administration has done. We will have to see the effect of this in the coming months.”

According to Cisneros, the main issue is the lack of funding. “When you see that many universities are behind us, even though they have a bigger budget [...] you realize that everything in Spain is sustained with a lot less,” he says. “The students, teachers and administrative staff are putting in a great effort, but an economic boost is needed,” he continues.

Elias agrees: “It’s like playing in the Champions League [soccer competition] with a third-division budget.”

Francesc Torres, the rector of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, which has two subjects in the top 50, also highlights the need for more funding. “We have been to Aalto University in Finland, and there’s no comparison. They have 10,000 students and a budget of €350 million. We have 30,000 students and a €300 million-budget.”

1430University of BarcelonaAnatomy
1724Complutense University of MadridDentistry
2125ESADE Business SchoolAdministration and business management
2129Polytechnic University of CataloniaArchitecture
2323Polytechnic University of CataloniaCivil engineering
2931IESE Business SchoolAdministration and business management
3019University College of Hospitality Management Sant Pol de MaTourism management
3130University of BarcelonaVeterinarian studies
31IE UniversityAdministration and business management
3434Complutense University of MadridVeterinarian studies
3541Polytechnic University of MadridArchitecture
3845Polytechnic University of MadridCivil engineering
3834Polytechnic University of MadridMining engineering
4327University of BarcelonaLibrary science
4550Carlos III UniversityEconomy
4549University of BarcelonaPhilosophy
4546Ramon Llull UniversityTourism management
4748University of BarcelonaArchaeology
4949Polytechnic University of MadridAviation

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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